Former Vernon man accused of sexual assault

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BRATTLEBORO — A former Windham County teacher who spent more than seven years in federal prison for possessing images of child sexual abuse is back in jail, now accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a child more than a decade ago.

According to documents filed in Windham Superior Court, Criminal Division, Eric Achenbach, now 70 and living in Hartland, was ordered held without bail Friday pending a weight of the evidence hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.

In December 2011, Achenbach was sentenced to 79 months in federal prison on two counts of possessing and receiving images of child sex abuse.

In 2018, Achenbach was released from prison and moved to Hartland. As part of his federal sentencing, he sold his home on Fort Bridgman Road in Vernon and the proceeds went to his victims. But in late 2018, Achenbach was back in federal court after his parole officer said he had violated his conditions of supervised release by contacting two girls under the age of 18.

An investigation resulted in the charges filed in local court on Friday that he sexually assaulted a local girl between 2007 and 2008.

"The defendant was sanctioned at the federal level for a violation of his supervised release for contacting the child," said Deputy State's Attorney David Gartenstein. "It was in the time frame of that contact when the child began making her disclosures."

According to an affidavit filed in court, in March the child told an investigator at the Windham County Safe Place Child Advocacy Center about memories of being sexually assaulted by Achenbach. During the interview, the child described the events as "such a clear memory."

She told Alyssa Todd, a forensic interviewer, that Achenbach "had pornographic photos of kids under the age of 18 hidden under a platform."

The federal case against Achenbach began in November 2008 when two deer hunters found images of child sexual abuse stored in a box underneath a wooden platform in the woods near Achenbach's house in Vernon. A subsequent search of Achenbach's home turned up more than 1,000 images of child sex abuse and erotica, including images of infants being sexually assaulted and of the defendant engaged in sexual conduct with a doll. Also found were pictures Achenbach had taken of two children, which he had digitally manipulated to create images of sex abuse.

Following the interview with Safe Place, investigators retrieved the file from the federal case and discovered inappropriate pictures of a child that was later identified as the complaining witness in the new state charges.

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On Friday, Achenbach was charged with repeated aggravated sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault of a victim under 13 years old, lewd and lascivious conduct with a child and lewd and lascivious conduct.

During the weight of the evidence hearing, Gartenstein said, the state will need to show, through evidence and sworn testimony, the elements of the crimes Achenbach allegedly committed.

"If the court finds the weight of the evidence is great, then the burden is on the defendant charged with a crime with a potential sentence of life imprisonment to explain why he should be released before trial," Gartenstein said.

If the case makes it to trial, he said, the victim will need to testify, although accommodations, such as testifying via videoconferencing, can be made. And though these crimes happened more than a decade ago, he said, there is no statute of limitations in Vermont when it comes to aggravated sexual assault.

Gartenstein said Safe Place is an important resource for prosecutors in Windham County.

"The Advocacy Center helps to coordinate resources and interactions with a complaining witness who has made a report of sexual abuse," he said.

Gartenstein also noted that the Windham County State's Attorney's Office has been in contact with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Vermont about this matter. Kraig LaPorte, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said the office is aware of the state charges filed on Friday.

Because the sexual assault allegations filed in local court predate Achenbach's sentencing in federal court, the new charges won't affect his federal sentence. Achenbach will remain on supervised release in the federal system for the rest of his life.

Achenbach taught in southern Vermont for more than 31 years. According to employment records, he was hired to teach digital media and computer graphics programming at Brattleboro High School in 1985. He was placed on administrative leave in December 2008 and surrendered his teaching license in January 2009.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 151.


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